Big Data? Try Small Data

I got a call from the Wall Street Journal last month for a last-minute assignment to photograph Harvard geneticist George Church in his lab. Church and his colleagues recently encoded his latest 53,000-word book into DNA — and then they made 70 billion copies of it. Keep in mind, we’re talking DNA, so those 70 billion copies of that 53,000-word book really just amounts to about a single drop in the bottom of a test tube. Colleagues are calling the development a breakthrough in data storage, though reading the data back is still a lengthy process for now.

Church, as you can imagine, was quite busy that afternoon — all of this was shot while he was on mute during a conference call! That left me a bit of time to wander around the lab and hang out with the grad students doing all sorts of interesting stuff with E. Coli and DNA.

Be sure to check out the whole story online (may be behind the paywall).

08/15/2012 -- BOSTON -- Harvard biologist George Church poses for a portrait in his office on Aug. 15, 2012. Church recently completed a book on DNA and encoded it into 70 billion copies as DNA ? small enough to fit in a single drop in a test tube. ..CREDIT: Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal..DNABOOK (Kelvin Ma/Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal)

08/15/2012 -- BOSTON -- Harvard biologist George Church poses for a portrait in his office on Aug. 15, 2012. Church recently completed a book on DNA and encoded it into 70 billion copies as DNA -- small enough to fit in a single drop in a test tube. (Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal)

08/15/2012 -- BOSTON -- Harvard biologist George Church keeps a vial of DNA encoded with 70 billion copies of his latest book on Aug. 15, 2012. The encoding of his book is a first and represents a breakthrough in information storage, according to some of his colleagues...CREDIT: Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal..DNABOOK (Kelvin Ma/Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal)

08/15/2012 -- BOSTON -- Harvard biologist George Church poses for a portrait in his office with a vial of DNA encoded with 70 billion copies of his latest book on Aug. 15, 2012. The encoding of his book is a first and represents a breakthrough in information storage, according to some of his colleagues...CREDIT: Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal..DNABOOK (Kelvin Ma/Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal)

08/15/2012 -- BOSTON -- Harvard biologist George Church fields questions from a reporter in his office on Aug. 15, 2012. Church recently completed a book on DNA and encoded it into 70 billion copies as DNA ? small enough to fit in a single drop in a test tube. ..CREDIT: Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal..DNABOOK (Kelvin Ma/Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal)

08/15/2012 -- BOSTON -- Graduate student Joshua Mosberg checks on the growth of some bacterial strains in the lab of Harvard biologist George Church on Aug. 15, 2012. Church and his colleagues recently encoded 70 billion copies of his latest book into DNA, which is about a single drop of fluid in the bottom of a test tube...CREDIT: Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal..DNABOOK (Kelvin Ma/Kelvin Ma for the Wall Street Journal)

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